What can you do if you think your ex has tampered with bank statements or financial documents, and is perhaps trying to hide large sums of money?
When it comes to resolving the financial issues in the context of a divorce, informed negotiation needs to take place. To enable this, parties usually exchange financial disclosure evidencing the values of all their assets, pension schemes and income sources (for example, bank statements for 12 months for each account, up-to-date pension statements etc.). Both individuals have a duty to provide full, frank and clear disclosure to one another to ensure negotiations can be concluded swiftly and fairly.
Signs a spouse isn’t being honest about their finances during the divorce process
In some cases, individuals are reluctant to provide the financial disclosure required making it very difficult to assess their true financial position.
It is not uncommon for people to try and hide assets from their spouse in the hope that they will go unnoticed within negotiations or court proceedings. In my experience, a detailed analysis of someone’s bank statements against their wider disclosure would usually highlight anything odd, for example, an unexplained source of income or a transfer of a significant amount of money out of a bank account.
As the bank statements usually cover the full year in the lead up to the disclosure form, someone would have had to be planning for a while to dispose of wealth before that period. If there is a good reason, statements can be sought within a court process going back further than a year, although that is the exception rather than the rule.
There have been cases where individuals have tried to “doctor” their bank statements to hide large sums of money being transferred to undisclosed accounts or large sums of money being deposited from other sources. In short, trying to hide assets.
How can I prove the bank statements have been tampered with?
If there is a suspicion that a spouse has tampered with bank statements, the best way to flush out the issue is to request to inspect the original statements and/or seek that the statements’ authenticity is confirmed by the bank directly. In certain circumstances, the Court can also order banks to disclose details (including statements) for any accounts they hold for an individual (although this would be a more costly option).
It isn’t wholly straightforward and an application may need to be made to the Court to get the authority needed to resolve the issue.
Are there any repercussions for my spouse who has tampered with their bank statements?
There can be, depending on the circumstances.
Penalties and reputational damage
If, for example, the undisclosed/doctored asset becomes clear early on within the process it is likely that this will have minimal (if any) impact on timescales and costs. In those circumstances, it is unlikely to be proportionate to seek any penalty. Sometimes, individuals also genuinely forget that they have a bank account, which has been dormant for some time – though the activity of bank accounts will be clear from the statements when it comes to assessing the merit of any “I simply forgot” claim!
Where significant sums are undisclosed it is unlikely to be believed that they were forgotten and so it can damage the credibility of the spouse which means the court is less likely to believe them in the context of other factual disputes.
Delays and asset distribution
Where the failure to disclose has caused significant delays and/or costs to be incurred (and the asset that has not been disclosed would have a material impact on the case), then it may be possible to secure a costs order against the offending party.
In addition, it could be regarded as “conduct” which is a specific factor the Court has to take into consideration when deciding how assets should be divided between the parties. This could result in the offending party receiving less than they would have normally been entitled to by way of punishment. Conduct arguments are notoriously difficult to run, very often ineffective in cases where assets are only sufficient to meet needs and expert legal advice will be required to assist in compiling one effectively.
Hiding assets during the divorce process
The family court is familiar with people attempting to hide assets and have ways to deal with the issue. Probing questions need to be raised to highlight any discrepancies and if these are not responded to adequately, you can invite the court to infer the non-disclosing spouse has more resources than they have disclosed.
However, non-disclosure issues can cause delay and additional cost because they hamper negotiations and the court’s ability to steer couples towards a settlement. Often this means a final hearing has to be reached to achieve an imposed outcome. The way the case is set up is therefore vital.
If you believe your spouse is (or is likely to) hide assets, it is really important to take legal advice to ensure you get the relevant expertise and touch base with family practitioners who are experienced in navigating these types of issues so that it can be dealt with swiftly and as cost effectively as possible.